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Researchers See a Post-Snowden Chilling Effect In Our Search Data 138

Daniel_Stuckey (2647775) writes "How risky is it to use the words "bomb," "plague," or "gun" online? That was a question we posed, tongue in cheek, with a web toy we built last year called Hello NSA. It offers users suggested tweets that use words that drawn from a list of watchwords that analysts at the Dept. of Homeland Security are instructed to search for on social media. "Stop holding my love hostage," one of the tweets read. "My emotions are like a tornado of fundamentalist wildfire." It was silly, but it was also imagined as an absurdist response to the absurdist ways that dragnet surveillance of the public and non-public Internet jars with our ideas of freedom of speech and privacy. And yet, after reading the mounting pile of NSA PowerPoints, are all of us as comfortable as we used to be Googling for a word like "anthrax," even if we were simply looking up our favorite thrash metal band? Maybe not. According to a new study of Google search trends, searches for terms deemed to be sensitive to government or privacy concerns have dropped "significantly" in the months since Edward Snowden's revelations in July."
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Researchers See a Post-Snowden Chilling Effect In Our Search Data

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...then raise your dominant hand and slap yourself silly with it. Internalized chains are the hardest to break, and what the ruling class can't do any longer with religion they now do with plain old fear.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's almost as if the government's conduct can be discerned as a violation of our most basic human rights as guaranteed by the contract that allows said government to exist.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Show the incumbent protection machine (98% incumbent reelection rate) how much you despise them. Vote independent, and if that isn't a choice, vote for the challenger, regardless of party.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        This is hilarious.

        What makes you think the opposition to the incumbent shares any different views? Say it's democrat and republican. They share identical views! There is almost no nuances or differences whatsoever. Both sides vote against citizens when money is involved.

        • The point in the first go-round is less to get someone in with the proper views and more about sending a message to the current crop of politicians that they are not secure in their seats. With the re-election rate of Congressional seats, it is more important in the beginning to do this than to worry about getting the perfect person in. No matter who you vote in, it will end up badly for you if they never have to fear being voted back out.
        • Taking some action is better than your suggestion of doing nothing. The best action would be to petition for people you know and trust, and get them into offices. Barring that, vote for people other than established politicians and change will begin to happen.

          If you stop telling everyone they are wrong, and teach them to do _SOMETHING_ then things overall can improve. It's shitbags like you claiming that no action is the answer. How well has that worked out for people over the last 3 decades of shit ass

  • What happens in the forums during discussions like this? Basic moderation as I understand it doesn't explain it.
    • Yeah, there seems to be an inordinate amount of off-topic or intentionally offensive comments. This problem seems to be getting worse.
    • Let me guess, you're new here? A decade or so ago the GNAA was able to flood the comments section with troll posts (complete with Last Measure links). Other copy-paste posts like the interview with CmdrTaco who had become a "nullo", pitches for MyCleanPC, and BSD is Dying often brought mirth to the comments. If anything, there is too high a proportion of on-topic posts these days, and the few trolls you get are boring one-sentence attacks on African-Americans. In a way, that's a more poignant sign of Slashd

  • by Andrio ( 2580551 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @02:14PM (#46920995)

    Let's not blow this out of proportion. Sure, it would be the bomb if the NSA stopped spying on everyone, as all this spying is a plague on our freedoms. But let's not burn any bridges here.

    • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @02:21PM (#46921061)

      Would it kill the President to take a stand here?

      • Re:NSA incoming (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @03:00PM (#46921397)

        Would it kill the President to take a stand here?

        Given what we now know about corruption and lawlessness in the US three-letter agencies, I'd have to say that it just might.

        • Oddly spook e-mail configs (to add random terms to generate false positives to big brother) were popular 20 years ago when there was almost no traffic and no reason for surveillance. They don't appear to exist now that there is a huge volume of e-mail and known government surveillance.

          Rebellion is so much easier in the absence of repression.
    • by aliquis ( 678370 )

      Back in the 90s it wasn't uncommon that my IRC client said something like nuke USA kill the president terrorist bomb .. so on so on.

      I still wonder whatever that have affected my possibility of getting into the US =P

      Back then of course there was talk about Echelon. Did it really exist? If so it was fun to type stuff like that.

      I guess now we know it existed =P

      Since I have nothing to hide I may just as well say it even though they are listening?! Or how do the saying go? =P

  • Why use [] if you have m-x spook?
  • Or... OR (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 )

    What if Google is just conveniently forgetting to log more of those terms so that they don't have to do as much work snooping on people? I mean, if you don't have as many terrorist suspects showing up on your search engine you surely wont have as many illegal search warrants to process.

    • google (et all) are the government's bitch.

      they will do as they're told.

      or else.

      • google (et all) are the government's bitch.

        they will do as they're told.

        or else.

        Exactly. What if this is their way of conveniently getting out of having to do more work? "Oh look at that, our flags on anthrax bomb searches only turned up 50 people this month instead of 100, yay, half as much snooping to do!" Surely the more clandestine parts of Google's infrastructure would be so far from scrutiny that no one would have any way to tell if the flags only worked half the time.

  • Self censoring (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Evtim ( 1022085 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @02:16PM (#46921017)

    Brilliant! The desired effect is achieved!

    Remind me again, wasn't the Internet hailed as a game-changer that would bring people together, make us better human beings, or at least different.

    Where is this profound change? It did not happen. Perhaps the optimists have underestimated people's distrust for the different? So, even though James and Ivan could chat while being 10000 miles away, and learn how for instance the media that feeds them is biased diametrically opposite, most of the time they didn't.

    But just to make sure, you know just in case the impossible happened, all governments in the world made sure we won't talk with each other. Let me not recount the endless torrent of censorship all over the place across the whole world - this is /. after all. But in line with the topic, let me just remark - if I want to speak with someone from, say, an Arab country, to discuss the situation and gain the others side view - how many words we would use in the discussion that would be in those lists? Tens at least, I am sure. Now I have to be afraid of being flagged, and it is not paranoia - do you want to bet your ass in Gitmo that Buttle/Tuttle thing won't happen? @#$% that!

    • At least it is easy to find out if you are flagged. Just try and take a flight. (Assuming they do not misspell your name.)
    • Where is this profound change? It did not happen.

      It did not happen because the software and distributed infrastruture needed to support it was never written or developed. The blame for this can be placed solidly at the feet of the global hacking community, which hasn't created a truely disruptive technology since Bittorrent back in 2001 (IMHO, the jury is still out on Bitcoin (2009) ).

      The reasons for this are largely socio-economic. The rise of Google and Co. has meant that "disruptive" software is now pri

    • Where is this profound change? It did not happen.

      Clearly you haven't been on Tinder.

    • by s.petry ( 762400 )

      This is not a problem due to the Internet, it's due to people being ignorant. I'll argue that the dumbing down of people is by design, but that's not even relevant. People don't have a clue about human nature, politics, or how a Republic is supposed to work. How many high school kids have read Plato's "The Republic"? That is the blueprint for our type of Government, including all of the moral lessons required to get there. How many have read and understand the Constitution and Federalist papers? The R

  • by CycleFreak ( 99646 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @02:20PM (#46921047)

    Because if someone thought you liked the band, that would be horrible.

    Oh the embarrassment! On your permanent record, no less.

    • "You confessed that you tried to make biological weapons despite just being a fan of some trash metal band?"
      "Y... yeah...."
      "I ... I was afraid my friends could find out ... the shame, ya know...."

    • by MrDoh! ( 71235 )
      Proud to let it be known I still think they're great! Saw them last year and... they still sound fantastic. Many bands sound ages, but there's something about this band that's raised them above many of their contemporaries.
  • I've stopped searching on the word Constitutional.

  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @02:40PM (#46921215) Homepage

    searches for terms deemed to be sensitive to government or privacy concerns have dropped "significantly" in the months since Edward Snowden's revelations in July.

    It is hard for me to find this shift to be acceptable. The government's oppressive surveillance must not lead to people changing the information they consume. That is the very epitome of cultural programming, the cost of which is far to great for our society to suffer.

    I think we have a solution; decentralized distribution of the very kinds of information that is being chilled. Copies of Wikipedia,, The Anarchists Cookbook (OK, I'm dating myself, and showing my ignorance of modern anarchist material online, but whatever the modern equivalent of that book is), and similar materials, written to 16 Gig USB sticks, and available for purchase at your local hackerspace for $20. Pop it into your computer, and read whatever you want without the goverment spying on you. Maybe even make it a bootable distro, with networking disabled, so you can be truly locked down (except for airgap-jumping attacks, of course, but those are still pretty esoteric). Maybe call it "Thoughtcrime On A Stick". Hmm, actually, I like that name so much I'm grabbing the domain names.

    Don't get me wrong, I don't relish the idea of making that sort of information more readily available; what peaceful minded person would? But if the alternative is chilling human knowledge, and the empirical evidence shows that it is already happening, what choice do I have?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Maybe even make it a bootable distro

      The problem here would be trust - way too easy to make a complete spy-ware distro and tell people that it is your "truly locked down" one instead.
      The solution isn't going backward in technology (sneaker instead of fiber), the solution is restoring privacy and anonymity with better technology.

      • by PaddyM ( 45763 )

        What we need are nickel pages in a book. For some reason Thomas Edison thought he could store 1000s of books in the same space as a paper book, although his invention never came to be, and so I don't really know what he was talking about.

    • First of all, the cost of distributing information is fixed at the cost of distributing information. Those $20 DVDs? Bullshit, those cost $1 at most.

      Secondly, have you examined your racism? You are opposing the President of the United States, who is just as peaceful minded as you. If you're opposed to him, you are quite likely a racist. You need to stop doing that. You're wrong.

      • by Bob9113 ( 14996 )

        Those $20 DVDs? Bullshit, those cost $1 at most.

        Oh, yeah, for sure (though I'm thinking memory sticks, not DVDs, since optical drives are going the way of the dinosaur). But I'm also helping launch a hackerspace, and I figure if you let the hackerspaces generate a little funding, at a price that people would be happy to pay, everyone wins.

        I also assume most would also let you bring your own stick and write a copy on demand. Just the idea of having a wicker basket full of sticks ready to subvert the masses a

    • The problem is that every one of those SUB sticks comes pre-loaded(for your convenience...) with all manner of NSA spyware.
      • by Bob9113 ( 14996 )

        The problem is that every one of those SUB sticks comes pre-loaded(for your convenience...) with all manner of NSA spyware.

        I don't know about your local hackerspaces, but the ones I go to all have at least a few people who are pretty hardcore about infosec. If one of those guys says he did is best to make it clean, I would trust both his integrity and ability.

        But, the truth is your point still has a great deal of merit. Potentially you could also sell a Raspberry Pi box for the true tinfoil hat afficionado.

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @02:49PM (#46921315)

    Post Snowden? Can we stop blaming the one guy that did the right thing for uncovering the mountain of shit our government had piled up for itself? He didn't even release it all, a lot of the revelations have come from FOIA requests!

    It'd would be like calling "Post Woodward, Nixon was impeached" That Woodward jerk! How could he do such a thing!

    I'm fairly certain this "Post Snowden" line was written wholesale by the NSA. Way to perpetuate propaganda Slashdot.

    • Settle down, Beavis- the impression I get from this is post-snowden, aka after Snowden has revealed what pieces of shit are government actually are (confirmed might be more accurate for some) people are willing up to the fact that yes, they really are watching us and adjusting their search habits accordingly. I wouldn't say 'blame' as much as 'give proper credit to'.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      A lot of people have been very heroic whistelblowers over many years and have faced a lot of court time. []
      Re 'He didn't even release it all" - all the material is now in the hands of the press.
      Some of the local press will remove all text ourside their local telcos ie for their own countries consumption. Other members of the press relase more per slide/documnet.
      re 'wholesale by the NSA" - that limited hangout is always a risk with material like this.
      Countries may be exp
  • I for one have only increased my search phrases to include "fundamentalist terror victim shoves anthrax-laden biochemical warheads into buttocks to appeal to president obama porn"
  • by Sperbels ( 1008585 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @03:03PM (#46921427)
    Guys, if you don't want the NSA scanning your websites, just set up a robots.txt. Duh.
  • by AndyKron ( 937105 )
    Fuck the government
  • by lemur3 ( 997863 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @03:09PM (#46921467)

    This is why I keep my full 1992 set of Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedia handy. Just incase I need to look up Anthrax, or Bomb or Detonator.

    I can do it safely, without anyone knowing.

    Or, one could go to the public library and look at the stuff in the Reference section, one cannot even check those books out! ..Or, just go to the regular stacks and read the books on-site, bring tracing paper for the diagrams.. oh man, there is a whole world of information outside of the internet! and the NSA subpenas

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @03:19PM (#46921521)

    I recently considered getting back into model rocketry, but using more high-end rockets rather than little Estes kits. Since I've read plenty about rocket chemistry (read "Ignition!" if you like chemistry at all - it's worth it), I quickly figured out that a relatively easy* one to build would be a hydrogen peroxide monoprop - H2O2 decomposes into H2O + O2 in an exothermic manner, which can be used for thrust. It an also be used as an oxidizer with most fuels. For both you'll need high-strength peroxide - the CVS stuff is just a solution of like 1% H2O2 in H2O, but you'll want 80% or higher for rocketry. I decided to see how readily available it was, and how expensive it would be. It wasn't too expensive, and could be found fairly easily, but I wonder if I'm now on a watch list just for looking at a chemical that honestly wouldn't make a good terrorist weapon at all.

    * This would be easy in comparison to, say, one using nitric acid or liquid oxygen. It would still be a very difficult thing to build, which is why I'm probably not going to actually build one.

    • We're ALL on the "list." The only difference is what degree of escalation your monitoring is at. And, we're mostly accepting that. I listened to some comments last week by Samuel Jackson rephrasing the old "hey if you're not a terrorist you have nothing to worry about" refrain.

      Very disheartening and depressing. People are just whistling past the liberty graveyard.

    • You probably did end up on a list, as with most hobbies if you go beyond the most simplistic things you probably end up on a list. I'm sure I ended up on with with my automotive hobby since when you get into restoring vehicles you end up using lots of things that fall outside of what a normal person would use. For example look at the chemicals as well as equipment I have ordered over the years, because really what individual needs an oxy-acetylene cutting torch, numerous types of gasses for torches and wel
    • by VAXcat ( 674775 )
      Before you try using H2O2 80% as propellant, read about how dangerous it was as the monopopellant "T-Stoff" in the ME163. Lots of explosions and dissolved pilots...
      • Oh, I'm aware of the danger (as well as the German use of it - I actually got the idea from the V-2 missile, which used an H2O2 monoprop rocket in the fuel pump).

        It's still less dangerous than many alternatives (like nitric acid), particularly since I'd only be using a quarter-liter or so at most. And the marginally-safer oxidizers like LOX would be harder to handle.

        But I can't really say that the safety issues didn't play a part in deciding not to go through with it.

    • You probably went onto a list when you downloaded "Ignition!"

      OTOH, the list you're on is probably the one of "people who know something about chemistry and are pretty unlikely to do anything worse than blow up their garage with it".

  • I don't want to be flagged just because the latest OS from MS is a total bomb!

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday May 05, 2014 @04:18PM (#46921967)

    So, let me get this straight.

    The same search engine we are actively not using, out of fear that someone is watching what we're searching, is used to run a search to generate a report to reveal what we are not searching for.

    Uh, you know that chilling effect we're all talking about here? Yeah, that would be Mr. Don't-be-Evil over there...

  • and "Worship Music" is the best thing they've done since "Among The Living".
  • Just in case you're wondering why the work DHS analists seems so ineffective, from TFA (page 50):

    The current suite of equipment on the Traditional Media desk includes one Dell Optiplex GX620 workstation (232 GB HD/2MB RAM),...

  • For what wrong he has caused, more than you think, a certain lese majeste effect has surrounded him. People will try to disappear criticism, something that they think would happen to their idol.

  • "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by eactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. . . . The process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there's no reason or excuse for commiting thought-crime. It's merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won't be any need even for that. . . . Has it ever occcured to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?"

    - George Orwell, 1984

  • Oh, right, the tinfoil demographic that characterizes Slashdot won't laugh because it plays right to their biases. When that happens, Slashdot's usual capacity for at least a little more critical thinking than the average Joe goes right out the window and the Two Minute Hate commences.

    Seriously, the 'study' verges on being joke. The words used were determined to be "sensitive" based on whether or not a bunch of random people would be "embarrassed" or thought "it would get them in trouble" - about as unsci

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky